Our shot from the WorldSBK paddock in Montmeló near Barcelona – included in the Superbike World Championship calendar since the first pandemic season in 2020. This time with the European start for the first time, which has the advantage of much more pleasant temperatures than in summer or September. Aside from that, flights and overnight stays are usually dirt cheap compared to high season.

Scary trends in WorldSBK Friday training in Barcelona

As feared by the realists among commentators and experts in advance, a picture emerged similar to that seen at the season opener in Australia. On the track from Montmeló, near the Catalan metropolis of Barcelona, tire grip is the central issue and the other is related to the long start-finish straight. Due to their still drastic handicap due to the maximum speeds permitted by the FIM, Yamaha and Kawasaki’s task compared to Ducati in particular looks like a huge challenge. The placings of some top pilots, whose skills and speed should not be doubted, were downright frightening on the first day of the WSBK weekend in Catalunya. With Domi Aegerter (Yamaha) in twelfth place ahead of Michael van der Mark (BMW) and fourth-placed Yamaha factory rider Andrea Locatelli and Garrett Gerloff (BMW) in P16, some of the fastest pilots in the field fell far short of expectations. The only consolation is the fact that very often Friday results are not a reliable indication of the race weekend.

Only the previous Aruba..it Ducati factory rider Michael Ruben Rinaldi was unable to place in the top ten with his Panigale V4R. With the exception of BMW newcomer Toprak, the front positions are all reserved for his Ducati brand colleagues, which affected the result of the second free practice session on Friday. The gap in the Ducati competition in the top ten in bold was frightening.

Little hope for a turnaround in the Barcelona round

Compared to the previous two years, the change in regulations by FIM and Dorna was intended to bring relief when they gave in to pressure from Ducati’s rival manufacturers and introduced a minimum weight for rider and machine. But as experts feared in advance, a few extra kilos on Alvaro Bautista’s Panigale V4R are of very little use as long as the FIM deviously uses the speed limits from the beginning of 2023 instead of maintaining the values ​​that were valid at the end of the previous year. This would mean that Ducati would have 500 rpm less, instead of being the only machine in the field that could use a maximum speed of over 16,000 rpm for their MotoGP replica. What was already apparent at the start of the season in Australia seems to be continuing in the Catalan round. This threatens to result in a similar one-sidedness and, as a result, boringness, as has been the case in the past two years. Bautista won the last two rounds of Barcelona 2022 and 2023 at will and benefited from a top speed advantage of at least 10 to 15 km/h. In addition, it had advantages in acceleration and, thanks to its weight advantage, it also had the lowest tire wear in the field. At the moment it looks like only one brand colleague can beat him.

According to his own statements after FP2, Tarran Mackenzie on the PETRONAS MIE Honda is getting along better and better with the CBR-1000RR-R, which is still completely new to him. Last year’s WSSP surprise winner (also for MIIE Honda, in the second round of Most 2023) can definitely be expected to make further improvements over the course of the season (© MIE Honda).
Route sketch of the Circuito de Cataluña in Montmeló near Barcelona, with a straight that is much too long for the Ducati competition, similar to that in Portimão. Here, the machines from Kawasaki and Yamaha in particular lose valuable tenths on each lap due to their low permitted maximum speed of barely over 15,000 rpm on the 4,657 kilometer long course with 8 right-hand and 6 left-hand corners.

Can the competition still turn the tide?

Of course, there is still hope that some pilots could ultimately turn the picture from Friday afternoon on its head. At the forefront this time are neither Kawasaki nor Yamaha, but rather surprisingly the BMW factory team with Toprak Razgatlioglu and “Magic” Michael van der Mark. The two led the timesheets ahead of Jonathan Rea on Friday morning after FP1 and the teammate of the Yamaha newcomer from Northern Ireland was also only a little behind the best with P5. Andrea Locatelli, as he emphasized in the interview beforehand, even believes he can fight for victory at the weekend. In addition, Alex Lowes should not be differentiated despite his relatively modest training times. The Kawasaki ace also stayed outside the best times in Australia on the first day, only to be the best at the weekend and return to Europe as the world championship leader. The Englishman and especially the Yamaha and BMW pilots should benefit from the fact that this time the temperatures in Barcelona are lower than ever before. This is of course thanks to the fact that the Circuito de Cataluña is allowed to host the European season opener for the first time.

Xavi Vierge on the factory Honda CBR-1000RR-R made an original statement in the interview before the race weekend: “If the course in Catalonia had no curves, we would be right at the front with the very fast Honda.” We wish the likeable local hero that the world’s largest manufacturer will soon make helpful progress with the chassis. (© HRC Honda).
Our photo of KRT Kawasaki Hospitality, which is located in the immediate vicinity (on the right in the picture). The home of record world champion Jonathan Rea for 9 years, before the Northern Irishman decided to switch to the Yamaha factory team this season after three years without a title.

The program in Barcelona for this weekend

Fortunately, thanks to the time difference between Portugal and Spain due to MotoGP, there is no serious collision, at least for TV and streaming. This means that there is no conflict of interest regarding live viewing for the fans of both series, which probably form the majority. Of course, this looks different for visitors on site, although in terms of numbers they obviously represent a minority. For the first time this year, the junior category of WSSP 300 (see picture below) is also at the start, as well as the R3 bLU cRU Europa Champ series in Barcelona. In addition to the WSBK, the WorldSSP is likely to be particularly interesting, where the Ducati competition obviously has at least slightly better cards to ensure more balance. In the premier class of the series-based world championship, however, we can only hope that the fastest pilots from BMW, Kawasaki and Yamaha will surpass themselves and ensure a lot of excitement in the three races on the weekend. Otherwise, there is a risk of the same monotony in Barcelona as in the previous two years, when Bautista won all the races completely safely and without having to take any major risks, with absolute superiority.

The WorldSSP 300 drivers with the new safety car from Dodge in the foreground, which puts no less than 717 hp on the road with its V8 engine.
Our recording of WSSP veteran Lucas Mahias, the 2017 world champion on Yamaha. The still very fast Frenchman from Mont-de-Marsan is back on the road for Yamaha (in the GMT94 Yamaha team) this season after many years on Kawasaki. In Superpole, he missed the front row of the grid by less than three tenths on Friday afternoon, just ahead of Marcel Schrötter (MV Agusta).

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).